Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert F. Kennedy 53 years ago after the young member of America’s Camelot captured the California Democratic Primary of the 1968 presidential race.
It was the second time in a decade that a Kennedy was assassinated after they championed for the civil rights of Blacks, minorities and the poor. For Black America, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination added more pain just two months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Both men were against the Vietnam War and shared a common vision of advancing the agenda of Blacks against a torrent of hate and resistance during the turbulent Civil Rights Movement.
King’s killer, James Earl Ray, never saw freedom before he died in 1998. At 77, Sirhan is still alive and wants to get out of jail after serving more than five decades behind bars. The Palestinian, who was just 24 when he became a murderer, made the big first step toward his freedom last month when he successfully persuaded the California parole board to grant him parole after 15 failed attempts. He appeared to radiate genuine remorse for killing Robert F. Kennedy after shooting him three times at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. With the recommendation of the board, Governor Gavin Newsom has 90 days to decide whether to free Sirhan.
Two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Douglas are in favor of his release. But Kennedy’s widow, matriarch Ethel Kennedy, and six children are against Sirhan’s parole.
In a statement, Ethel Kennedy said that, “We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again.”
Congressman Danny K. Davis and WVON radio personality Cliff Kelley agree, and so does the Editor and Publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group, Dorothy R. Leavell. We hope that Governor Newsom will decide to keep Sirhan behind bars where he belongs for good.
The Crusader believes Sirhan’s remorse of killing Robert F. Kennedy is just an act. This week, the online magazine The Intercept published a story that alleges Sirhan was coached by a team of fellow prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
Death Row Records Founder Suge Knight, who’s serving 28 years in prison for the death of a man during a 2015 hit-and-run incident, was reportedly among several inmates who coached Sirhan through a prison-run organization called Redemption Row. The Intercept reported that for weeks they held mock parole board hearings and grilled Sirhan with tough questions to prepare him for the real thing. Their plan apparently worked and today Sirhan presents himself as a “changed’ man, but his transformation is artificial.
In reality, Sirhan’s approval by the parole board was all about rehearsals and training sessions aimed at helping him appear remorseful. This shallow, false attempt at gaining freedom is an insult to the Kennedy family and those who stood for the values Robert F. Kennedy spent his life championing. His political agenda included racial and economic justice. Blacks embraced Robert F. Kennedy as he made urban poverty a chief concern of his campaign.
Sirhan took the innocent but promising life of this great man. He is not sorry as his façade suggests. Governor Newsom shouldn’t buy it.
Nothing has changed about Sirhan. He is still the same man whose hatred killed a rising political star because of his support for Israel. The Intercept article suggests Sirhan is more concerned about getting out of jail than seeking true redemption through genuine forms of rehabilitation. Still after all these years in prison, Sirhan remains a dangerous figure to society who has failed to understand the gravity of his crime.